"Israel's" dangerous weapon: Normalization through arts and culture
“Israel” uses artistic and cultural venues, and receives famous artists from all over the world in occupied Palestinian lands, which helps create the impression that the Zionist entity is a normal country like any other.
Following the establishment of The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in 2004, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against “Israel” in 2005, Israeli officials thought of a way to whitewash the Israeli occupation’s ongoing massacres against Palestinians and Palestinian land -- culture.
In 2005, “Israel” created the “Brand Israel” campaign, which aimed to avoid touching on Jewish supremacy and the confrontation with the Palestinians, in order to polish the occupation’s image in front of Americans and Europeans through media, advertising, and image management strategies.
Similarly, in 2009, after the Israeli occupation massacred Gazans in its 2008 war on the Strip, Arye Mekel, then Israeli Foreign Ministry, confirmed that the occupation government is planning to “show Israel’s prettier face” by sending “well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits.”
According to BDS, Israeli artists participating in such events are forced to sign a contract pledging “to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”
Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, Israeli Foreign Minister in 2005 stressed the importance of using arts and culture to cover up “Israel’s” atrocities against human rights and international law.
"We are seeing culture as a hasbara [propaganda] tool of the first rank,” he said. “I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture," he added.
Implying “Israel” is normal
In the same context, as part of its attempt to whitewash its image internationally, “Israel” uses artistic and cultural venues and receives famous artists from all over the world in occupied Palestinian lands, which helps “create the impression that Israel is a normal country like any other,” highlights BDS.
The BDS movement considers performing in “Tel Aviv” as “the equivalent of performing in Sun City in South Africa during the apartheid era.”
This brings us to “Fauda”, a famous 2015 Israeli television series that talks about undercover Israeli occupation forces units known as the “mustaribim”.
Members of this unit usually disguise themselves as Palestinians in order to infiltrate into the Palestinian towns and villages. Even during protests, the “mustaribim”, dressed as Palestinians, kidnap protestors and brutally assault them.
Critics and observers pointed out that this Israeli production is far from the reality of what is happening in occupied Palestine. The series does not, in any way, give context to the ongoing confrontations between the Palestinian Resistance and the Israeli occupation forces. In addition, it dehumanizes Palestinians and portrays the Israeli occupiers as the good ones.
The Israeli government even hails artists who normalize ties with “Israel” and decline BDS calls to boycott performing in Israeli-funded events, such as the 2022 Sydney festival. It convinces itself that such acts and performances will give its settler colonialism, war machine against Palestinians, and apartheid some “legitimacy”.
As an example, when Egyptian actor and singer Mohammad Ramadan was partying at a Dubai bar on the rhythms of the Israeli song “Hava Nagila” in November 2021, the Arabic-language social media unit within the Israeli occupation foreign ministry – founded in 2011 -- did not miss the chance to repost the photos and videos from the party on its social media accounts.
The Arabic-language social media unit focused on a photo of Ramadan with Israeli pop star Omer Adam with the following caption: “art always brings us together.”
الفن دوما يجمعنا.. عرض الإعلامي الإماراتي حمد المزروعي صورة للنجم المصري محمد رمضان مع المطرب الإسرائيلي عومير آدام في دبي 🇮🇱🇪🇬🇦🇪 pic.twitter.com/sv4X3r5nUb— إسرائيل بالعربية (@IsraelArabic) November 21, 2020
This Israeli strategy comes as an October 2020 report by the Israeli occupation Ministry of Strategic Affairs highlighted that during August and September 2020, more than 90 percent of Arab comments on social media regarding normalization were negative.
The summary of the report suggested that “Israel must prepare to commence a protracted campaign online to win hearts and minds in favor of creating stronger ties with Israel.” Unfortunately, a ministry official confirmed that by January 2021, the percentage of negative Arab comments on normalization with “Israel” had fallen to 75 percent.
It is noteworthy that in 2018, celebrities such as Gerard Butler, Ashton Kutcher, Katharine McPhee, David Foster, Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, and Pharrell Williams disgracefully helped raise an all-time high of $60 million for the Israeli occupation forces to continue its massacres against Palestinians.
However, as a result of activist calls from BDS and PACBI, a huge number of artists have boycotted “Israel” either by canceling their concerts or refusing to play there in the first place, in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in protest of “Israel’s” atrocious human rights record and apartheid practices.
These are the artists that should be respected for their noble stances concerning the Palestinian cause – the likes of Roger Waters, Lauryn Hill, Chuck D, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and Patti Smith.
The Gulf and normalization
Shortly after the UAE and “Israel” signed a normalization agreement under US mediation in Washington, and before his visit to occupied Palestinian lands on December 3, 2020, Emirati singer Walid Al-Jassem joined Israeli singer Elkana Marziano in a duet to release a Hebrew-Arabic-English mashup song dubbed Ahlan Beik (Welcome).
In the song’s video clip shot in Dubai and “Tel Aviv”, both singers repeatedly wished peace upon each other before asking each other: "When are you coming?"
The song "reflects the spirit of peace between the two countries and friendship between the two peoples," expressed Ofir Gendelman, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesperson to Arab media.
The days before and after the signing of the normalization agreement between the UAE and “Israel” witnessed several controversies that should be touched on in the arts and culture field.
A Saudi comedy show called Makhraj 7, or Exit 7 – broadcasted on Saudi MBC group channel – portrayed the characters of actors Nasser Al-Qasabi and Rashid Al-Shamrani discussing having business relations with Israelis.
The scene shows Al-Qasabi’s character rejecting such deals with Israelis, believing that “Israelis are enemies.” Al-Shamrani’s character then responds by saying that “The real enemy is the one who shows no gratitude for your stance, dismisses your sacrifices and curses you day and night, more than the Israelis.”
“We entered wars for Palestine, we cut oil for Palestine, and the day it became an authority, we paid its salaries even though we have more right to this money. Yet they take every opportunity to attack Saudi Arabia,” he added.
In the same context, in mid-October 2020, the MBC group – based in the UAE -- deleted the whole episodes of the television series “The Palestinian Displacement” from its Shahid streaming platform, following the normalization agreement between the UAE and the Israeli occupation in September.
The series depicts the crisis and forcible displacement of the Palestinian people since the 1940s. The Saudi group then retreated its decision after widespread criticism.
Bieber urged to cancel performance in occupied Palestine.
Renowned Canadian pop star Justin Bieber is being called on to cancel his scheduled performance in occupied Palestine.
Bieber is set to perform in “Tel Aviv” within apartheid "Israel" on October 13, 2022.
The irony is that the singer’s tour is dubbed the “Justice World Tour”, while Palestinians are constantly suffering from the Israeli occupation’s apartheid system.
Kuwait resisting normalization
In the process of fighting normalization with the “Israel”, Kuwaiti and Tunisian authorities have recently decided to ban the screening of "Death on the Nile," citing the film's star Gal Gadot's military history in the Israeli occupation forces as the main reason.
Al-Qabas newspaper quoted an informed source as saying that the Ministry of Information has officially decided to ban the film from showing in Kuwait, effectively removing it from movie theatres.
#Kuwait officially bans '#DeathOnTheNile' following a public campaign calling for boycotting the movie over the participation of former IOF soldier and staunch "Israel" apologist #GalGadot. #Palestine pic.twitter.com/1GdZB93biQ— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) February 6, 2022
Kaouther Saida Chebbi, head of an anti-Zionist woman's movement in Tunisia, declared that "The main actress in the film is Israeli, was trained in the (Israeli) army and supports the colonization of Palestinian territory."
The Kuwaiti Ministry of Information has previously banned Wonder Woman from cinemas for the same reason.
The audience in Kuwait and many Arab countries have turned to social media platforms to call for the boycotting of the Hollywood movie, expressing their outrage over the screening of a movie starring Gadot whose history is tarnished with racist anti-Palestinian rhetoric, having previously called for the victory of "Israel" over Palestinians in its war on Gaza in 2014. The Israeli extended aggression killed 547 children.
The BDS movement in Kuwait has also been calling for a boycott of the movie.
Gadot’s Zionist history
Gadot came into prominence in 2016 when she played the role of the comic book character Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, before starring in a spin-off film about the character in 2017.
Wonder Woman was banned subsequently in Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia, and Jordan following boycott calls from pro-Palestinian activists and the BDS campaign.
The actress says she possesses a strong connection to her Israeli identity, which becomes more apparent when taking into consideration the two years she served in the IOF.
It’s called Palestine
David Draiman, lead singer of the metal band "Disturbed,” said that he has lost thousands of social media followers since making his trip to “Israel” public last month.
Draiman wrote on his Instagram account: “Here’s food for thought. Before my recent trip to Israel, I hadn’t used my Instagram account since the Device experiment.”
“I used it again specifically to make my trip and demonstration at the Western Wall public."
The lead singer continued, “Since the pictures of my trip and the demonstration were posted, I’m now down to 4k followers."
Thousands of artists and cultural workers have signed public statements in support of the cultural boycott. In 2015, more than a thousand cultural figures in the UK signed a cultural boycott pledge.
BDS-related initiatives have been launched in Montreal (Canada), Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland, Lebanon, the US, among others.
Despite offering large sums of money to international artists to defy the cultural boycott, Israeli promoters complain that it is becoming increasingly hard for them to attract famous artists.
Last but not least, audiences, celebrities, and artists should know that regardless of their “pure” intentions of visiting occupied Palestine or watching movies or television series that whitewash the image of “Israel” and promote normalization, they are in fact ignoring the Israeli oppression, justifying the occupation of Palestine and encouraging the apartheid system.
Instead, boycotting “Israel” and any form of normalizing ties with the occupation, along with armed resistance is key to the Palestinian cause.